The Paramedic Method:
How to Revive and Polish Your Writing
Richard Lanham developed the Paramedic Method in
his text, Revising Prose, as a means of writing clearer,
more concise statements that eliminate unnecessary
words, the passive voice, redundancies, and unoriginal
language.
There are two methods of practicing the Paramedic
Method, one which involves some knowledge of parts
of a sentence (prepositions, verbs, subject, etc.), and
another that is more based on your intuition, reliance
on punctuation, and natural stops in the sentence to
divide it into parts.
Method 1: Seven Steps
Take the original sentence and:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Circle the prepositions (of, in, about, for, onto, into)
Draw a box around the "is" verb forms
Ask, "Where's the action?"
Change the "action" into a simple verb
Move the doer into the subject (Who's kicking whom)
Eliminate any inactive phrasing that can be replaced with
an active verb (i.e. “a demonstration” becomes
“demonstrates”)
7. Eliminate any redundancies.
Example of the Seven-Step Method:
Use the seven step method to correct the
following sentence. A solution is proposed on
the next slide:
Original: Many long and wordy sentences that
can be found in essay papers can be
shortened to be more clear and concise for
the reader to understand what the writer is
trying to say.
Revision goes here
Method 2: Intuitive Method
Original: “In the past decade, the world of personal
computers and the internet has come into our
living rooms.”
Use intuition and punctuation to divide up the
sentence into parts:
a) “In the past decade”
b) “the world of personal computers and the
internet”
c) “has come into”
d) “our living rooms”
Now substitute each of these separate
phrases with a more concise or interesting
phrase. You may use a Thesaurus or Dictionary
to find substitute words.
a) “In the past decade”: The writer is
suggesting a time in the near present. Either
a specific date can be used, or words
indicating the recent past/near present:
1. “Recently”
2. “Since 2001”
b) “the world of personal computers and the
internet”: notice that this is somewhat of a
redundancy. A person cannot use the internet
without a computer, so the writer needs an
umbrella term that encompasses both ideas.
Many students will want to pick “technology”
here, but remember that microwaves and DVDs
are forms of technology. Something more specific
is needed:
1. “computer technology”—this
encompasses both “personal computers” and
“the internet” listed in the original sentence
c) “has come into”: this is the verb phrase. Notice that
whenever a verb phrase with “to have + verb” or “to be
+ verb” is used, it can usually be substituted with
something more original.
Verbs that mean “to come into” = enter, invade,
pierce, infiltrate, breach, break in, make way into
Notice that some of these verbs will still required the
student to use a to be or to have compliment (“has
broken into” or “is making its way into”). Try to avoid
those, and stick with verbs that can stand alone. The
verb sets the sentence’s tone, so pick a verb that best
represents how you, the writer, might feel about the
idea being expressed in that sentence. The context of
this example will be addressed on the next slide!
d) “our living rooms”: Does the writer mean that
computers are literally in the living room? Likely,
s/he is referring to “our homes” or “our lives.”
Why did s/he choose “living room?” Probably
because her feelings about computers in the
home is reflected here! Think for a moment:
“Living rooms” are usually designed as family
meeting spaces. Are computers/the internet
generally used for entire families to spend time
together, or are they more used by individuals? If
you feel they are family-oriented, you’ll want to
pick a positive verb like “entered.” If you feel they
are solitary and being used in a family room, you
may pick a more threatening verb like “invaded.”
Context tells us a lot about which verb to choose!
Putting it all together: Take the pieces you
dissected and revised, and now reassemble them
into a new and more exciting sentence!
Original: In the past decade, the world of personal
computers and the internet has come into our
living rooms. (18 words)
Revision 1: Computer technology invaded our
homes after 2001. (7 words)
Revision 2: Recently, computer technology entered
our lives. (6 words)
Practice 1:
Revise the following sentence using the either method. The
sentence has already been divided into parts for this first attempt
by using the intuitive method. A suggested answer is proposed on
the next slide.
Original: “The first step in a police investigation is for police to ask
questions to the parents and children in a family to find out what
happened.”
1. “The first step”
2. “in a police investigation”
3. “for police”
4. “is to ask questions”
5. “to the parents and children in a family”
6. “to find out what happened”
1. “The first step”: First, initially
2. “in a police investigation” (make inactive phrases active verb
phrases—be sure to pick a verb that implies the proper tone
and context!): police investigate, police interrogate, police
question
3. “for police”: (eliminate, since combined with part 2 above)
4. “is to ask questions”: (eliminate, since combined with parts 2
and 3 above)
5. “to the parents and children in a family”: family members
(eliminate excessive detail)
6. “to find out what happened”: to gather clues, to determine
facts (again, replace an inactive phrase with an exciting verb
phrase)
Original: The first step in a police investigation is for police to
ask questions to the parents and children in a family to find
out what happened. (26 words)
Revision: Initially, police question the family members to
gather clues. (9 words)
Practice 2
Practice 3